Repentance is a decision to turn, with the help of God, from a life of sin to a life of obedience toward God. The Scriptures are filled with the call to repentance.
Remember the account in the New Testament where the disciple, Peter, spoke to a crowd and his convicting word had cut to their hearts. The crowd had responded; “ … , ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer was; “… , ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). When Jesus sent out His disciples, they went with this message; “They went out and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12).
Dear reader, I plead with you to take to heart these sobering words spoken by Matthew Henry; “Abuse not therefore the patience and long-suffering of God, by abandoning yourselves to a course of ungodliness; presume not to go on boldly in the way of sinners, nor to sit down securely in an unconverted impenitent state.” 1
Scripture records an occasion where some men came to Jesus, telling Him of an unfortunate incident where some Galileans were put to death and their blood mingled with sacrifices. Their assumption seemed to be that these men must have been especially sinful in order to have suffered this fate. Jesus, however, said:
… ‘ And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’
While it is true that God judges unforgiven sin (unforgiven by God), the Bible also records that “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). Some think that the Lord is slow in returning but, instead, He is patient with us, holding open the door to repentant sinners. Not slackness, but mercy, is the reason for God’s delay. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, and others, said:
I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
Dear reader, the pathway of sin is ever descending into darkness, misery, heartache, pain, emptiness and disappointment. But there is a higher pathway that Jesus has opened to you and me and He calls us to choose it. Repent. Forsake your sinful ways and run to Him. God longs for us to repent. He says in His Word:
Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Here, God calls out to sinners to turn from their evil ways. He would far rather forgive men than judge men. However, He does judge men who refuse to turn to Him. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem; “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37).
The Gospel, or good news, of Christ is a call to repentance and faith. It calls men and women to discipleship. The Gospel sets men free, but it also calls men to careful obedience. It brings times of refreshing to those who turn to God and His ways. It also brings rebuke to hypocrites. One writer has said of the Gospel that; “It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy-believism.” 2 God is a God of grace and mercy. However, His grace is not some loose attribute by which He accepts hardened, unconverted sinners who refuse to come to salvation through repentance and faith.
Some have misunderstood grace because in the Book of James faith and works are contrasted. However, just because they can be contrasted in certain ways does not mean that they are in contradiction to each other, or that they are mutually exclusive. Faith is in no way in opposition to yieldedness to God, or to repentance. Instead, faith calls for yieldedness to God and repentance. We are saved by faith, but we are saved by a living faith, not a dead faith. Saving faith that is devoid of repentance is not alive; it is dead. It is imaginary, and it is powerless to change a person’s heart.
Repentance is so critically important a component of the Gospel, that to preach a Gospel of salvation that does not require repentance at all is to not preach the Christian Gospel, at all. Repentance is a forsaking of our old life and ways and, instead, choosing to follow the new and higher way of Christ. The new way of Christ involves carrying a cross. I am not talking about a literal cross or a pendent on a necklace. I am talking about painful opposition and scorn towards you for your making a decision to follow God. That opposition may come from people, or even from demons, but know that it will be there if you choose Christ’s way. Following the way of Christ cost the apostle, Paul, imprisonment, and even death, but he testified of his obedience when he said; “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” (Acts 26: 19-20).
The Bible teaches that God shows compassion and forgiveness to those who will repent. We read:
Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55: 6-7
To repent is an aspect of submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Those who repent, accept Jesus’ lordship. Contrary to some teaching in the Church world today, we do not make Jesus Lord. Jesus is already Lord. We do not make Him Lord, we simply commit ourselves to following Him and accept His lordship, or we rebel against it. “Making Jesus Lord” is a phrase used differently by different people. Some use this phrase in the context of conversion. However, some use this phrase to speak of committing to Christ at a later, or advanced, stage of Christian experience. This second use of the phrase is more seriously wrong. Jesus Christ is Lord and we must accept Him, as such, and submit to Him, as such, at the point of Christian conversion. To not accept Him as Lord is to not accept Him at all.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord. A. W. Tozer said that “You cannot believe on a half-Christ.” 3 Trying to believe on Jesus, as Savior, yet not accepting Him, as Lord, is like trying to believe in half a Jesus.
Many have invited Jesus into their heart without emptying their heart for Him to have room to come in. Emptying our heart simply means repenting and surrendering all of ourselves up to God. When this is done, there is room for Jesus to actually come in.
The biblical call to repentance and faith is not a suggestion on how to find a more fulfilling life. It is a command to surrender to God and change our ways. God wants to reconcile unsaved men and women to Himself and to do this involves repentance on our part. Repentant seekers of salvation are to come to the cross of Christ to surrender all, unconditionally.
Repentance is essential to conversion because you can’t walk the broad road and walk the narrow road at the same time. One road leads to eternal death and the other leads to eternal life. These roads are going in opposite directions. To choose one is to reject the other. Repentance and faith puts us on the narrow road to heaven.
The reason we must repent is because we are sinful. Humans have a nature which is bent with a strong tendancy towards wickedness. When we yield to this inclination, we begin to act out wickedness. This is personal sin. Conversion involves turning from sin and committing to following God. Wickedness and sin are not peripheral issues to God. Conviction confronts the issue and repentance brings a turning to God.
Is repentance something for only the unsaved person to do? No, Christians also make wrong choices which grieve the Lord. When a Christian sins, he is also called to repent. Christians have this precious promise; “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). When a Christian repents from sin, he or she is lining their life up with what they have already committed to the Lord, that is, to follow His way. When a non-believer repents before God of sins and self-rule, it is unto conversion. Altough both the believer and non-believer repent, this article is dealing primarily with the non-believer repenting unto conversion.
Friend, remember, God would rather forgive us than judge us, but He calls for men and women to repent. Remember, He says; “ … , ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).
With God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate; without God’s forgiveness, our slate, our record, our life, is unclean. Yes, without God’s forgiveness, we are wicked. There is only one alternative, to repent. Repentance is a decision. Faith is a decision. Prayer is a decision. Pray to the Lord and express your repentance to Him. Ask for His forgiveness. Turn to Him now and give Him your life. God bless you.
1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol. 6 (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers), 1055.
2. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 27. Taken from The Gospel According To Jesus by John F. MacArthur, Jr. Copyright © 1994 by John F. MacArthur, Jr. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
3. A. W. Tozer, quoted in John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 35. Taken from The Gospel According To Jesus by John F. MacArthur, Jr. Copyright © 1994 by John F. MacArthur, Jr. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol. 6. Iowa Falls : World Bible Publishers.
MacArthur, Jr. John F. The Gospel According To Jesus. Grand Rapids : Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
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Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)